The Vital Importance of Sleep and Sleep Knowledge
Written by Kevin Morton
One of the great paradoxes of human existence lies in the fact that despite spending nearly one third of our lives sleeping, very few people have even a basic understanding of how this fundamental part of their lives works.
In fact, by briefly reading through the rest of this sleep essentials guide, you will have made yourself more knowledgable about sleep than 99.9% of the rest of the world.
Indeed, until Nathaniel Kleitman began studying circadian rhythms and the regulation of sleep and wakefulness in the 1920s, sleep as a field of study did not really even exist.
No Sleep Research?
That is a rather amazing thing when you really think about it. While great thinkers throughout the past have recorded numerous personal insights into the nature of sleep, and dreams have undoubtedly been a mainstay subject in literary pieces, it’s a bit odd that no scientist before the 20th century that we know of ever embarked to study sleep more objectively.
Of course, before computers facilitated the use of polysomnography, such empirical study would have called for the scientist to stay up the length of the night to observe the sleeper, something that Dr. Dement ended up doing for the first time in the 1950s.
Maybe this is part of the reason sleep was never formally studied before–it was just too impractical or unorthodox a thing to stay up the whole night to watch others sleep. What do you think?
Kleitman is today considered the father of sleep research. After getting the ball rolling in the early 20th century, he worked extensively with two students in the 1950s–Eugene Aserinsky and our own professor, William Dement.
Aserinsky and Kleitman first documented the presence of rapid eye movements (REM) during sleep in 1953.
Dement went on to, among other things, extensively study the link between these eye movements and dreaming, eventually using a series of objective measurements to classify sleep into different stages. We will discuss these measurements and stages in subsequent sleep steps.
Since Kleitman’s original research, and especially in the last handful of decades, sleep scientists have learned an amazing amount of information about the mechanisms and nuances of sleep. However, the vast majority of that knowledge does not permeate to the general public.
Much of what sleep experts feel should be commonplace knowledge in our society is simple and straightforward, yet most people do not know about it. Much of this education gap is due to the fact that basic sleep knowledge has not made its way into the mainstream education systems in any meaningful way.
Despite the fact that sleep disorders are among the world’s most common illnesses (by far!), hardly any attention is paid to them in the medical schools that educate our doctors. Most of the physicians who are treating us lack basic knowledge about many of the ailments that ail us most! As a result, tens of thousands of Americans and millions more around the world are suffering and dying constantly due to sleep related problems even though effective treatments and cures are readily available.
In fact, by reading through the rest of this Sleep Essentials Quick Guide, you will possess more knowledge about sleep and sleep disorders than many doctors. Thus, when sleep-related problems arise in you or people you know (and they will, to some degree or another) you will be equipped enough to recognize that the issues are sleep-related and point them in the right direction to get treated. (How is sleep important to you? Let us know!)
Dr. D’s Sleep Book Says…
Dr. D’s Sleep Book Says…
Not only does sleep consume a third of human existence, but unhealthy sleep can also severely impair the other two-thirds. Although sleep is a natural process, more than half of all human adults claim they have difficulty sleeping. Unfortunately, very few physicians and other health professionals, let alone the average person, have a clear idea of the many specific causes of these complaints and there are, as yet, relatively few physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.
Optimizing Your Wakeful Hours
In addition to what Dr. D had to say above about sleep having the potential to impair the waking state, having knowledge about the mechanisms of sleep can also be used for just the reverse: optimizing the time your awake!
How can you do this? Well, your level of alertness throughout the day (and therefore typically your productivity, safety, emotional engagement, etc.) is governed by two processes that we will discuss in the other sleep steps. If you know how these processes work you can exercise a good deal of control over them and how they affect your alertness.
By learning about sleep you are empowering yourself to live life to the fullest. Now that you have an understanding of the importance of sleep, the remaining sleep steps will be able to take you the rest of the way towards this empowerment. Ready to continue on?